Sunday, 30 June 2019

Herner experienced season like no other with Valkyries

Kori Herner (#27) secures an interception for the Valkyries.
    REGINA, Sask. - Kori Herner’s rookie campaign with the Saskatoon Valkyries was a season that was unique to any she had encountered in team sports.
    Herner is associated the most with the sports of hockey and softball. In hockey, she played for the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA team for two seasons from 2011 to 2013 and was the club’s captain in her final campaign.
    Following her time with the Stars, Herner played five seasons with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team from 2013 to 2018, and she helped them win a Canada West Conference title and a bronze at U Sports nationals as a rookie in 2013-14.
    The Kindersley, Sask., product has been coaching in both hockey and softball since her Huskies playing days wrapped up.
    With the competitive juices still flowing to be a player, Herner was persuaded to join the Valkyries, who are a powerhouse team in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, by the squad’s head coach, Pat Barry, and veteran safety, Rienna Rueve.
    Herner, who recently turned 24-years-old, never played competitive tackle football before. She became a starting defensive halfback for the Valkyries and aided them in capturing the WWCFL title with a 25-3 victory over the host Regina Riot on Saturday at Mosaic Stadium.
    Besides learning a new sport and the ins and outs of the nine-year-old WWCFL, Herner dealt for the first time ever of the sudden passing of one of her team’s coaches as the season was in progress.
Kori Herner tries to rip away from a Riot tackler.
    On June 1, Valkyries defensive position coach Justin Filteau passed away in a plane crash. Filteau joined the Valkyries coaching staff in 2017 as a linebackers coach and was a defensive line coach this season.
    “We went through a really hard time, but I think overall it brought us closer together,” said Herner. “We did it for (Justin) Filteau.
    “We wanted to win this championship for Filteau. Everything we did and every play we did, everything was for him. I think that is what drove us to win this game.”
    In Saturday’s WWCFL title game, Herner had one of the key turning point plays that ultimately turned the contest in favour of the Valkyries.
    With Saskatoon holding a slim 1-0 lead over Regina in the second quarter, Herner intercepted Riot star quarterback Aimee Kowalski setting up the Valkyries in Regina’s half of the field.
    On the ensuing offensive series, the Valkyries manufactured a scoring drive that was capped by a four-yard rushing touchdown by star running back Sam Matheson.
    “It was pretty sick,” said Herner, whose team has an 8-0 overall record. “We talked before, and I said I wanted to get another one against Regina.
    “I did when we played them at home. I just saw it coming, and it was just right there. It was a good feeling. It was great.”
Kori Herner (#27) is all focus after a pick by Ehjae Chan, middle.
    Herner, who stands 5-foot-5, had an interception off Kowalski back on May 11, when the Valkyries downed the Riot 38-13 in a regular season encounter at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    Going into those games against the Riot, Herner was oblivious to the fact Kowalski was a career member of the Riot, who has played on Saskatchewan’s provincial and Canada’s national women’s tackle football teams.
    Herner said not knowing the reputations players had in the WWCFL might have slightly helped her, but she doesn’t overly concern herself on that front.
    “I just came to play,” said Herner. “Not really knowing a lot about her (Kowalski), it doesn’t really matter either way, if I did or didn’t.
    “I just went and did my job.”
    Barry was happy Herner elected to join the Valkyries this season. The sideline boss was proud to see Herner step up in a big moment.
    “It was a big factor for sure,” said Barry. “It did switch the momentum.
    “They were starting to make some plays. It was a big play. She is a first year player, and it was pretty exciting to have her make that play.”
Kori Herner (#27) enjoys a WWCFL title win with her teammates.
    Herner worked with both Barry and Rueve as a teaching intern at Walter Murray Collegiate. Barry and Rueve are both teachers at that Saskatoon high school.
    Herner and Rueve also played flag football together during the winter.
    Barry and Rueve kept selling Herner on the Valkyries and telling her the squad had a road trip to Las Vegas for an exhibition game. That turned out to be one of the selling points that helped bring Herner to the club.
    In that March 23 pre-season game, Herner played linebacker helping the Valkyries post a 34-6 victory over the Sin City Trojans.
    “Off the hop, I was pretty nervous,” said Herner, who earned her kinesiology and education degrees from the U of S. “I didn’t know a lot about football.
    “I didn’t know what to expect. They (the coaches) related everything to hockey. It just started making sense to me.
    “I really enjoyed it.”
    Herner found that she was good fit at defensive back. She said Valkyries defensive backs coach James Vause was really good at teaching the ins and outs of the position.
    Vause played safety for the Saskatoon Hilltops on four straight Canadian Junior Football League championship teams from 2014 to 2017, and he is currently a safety with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds football team in the U Sports ranks.
Kori Herner and the Valkyries are all smiles after their WWCFL title win.
    Herner was pumped to be part of a Valkyries league championship winner in her first campaign with the team.
    “F*&^$&# awesome,” said Herner. “It was nice.
    “Before, I was talking to my grandpa and how he always bugs me. He is like, ‘You’ve won so many championships.’ I’ve never won a football one before, so that would be nice to add to the shelves.”
    The Valkyries will hit the field for one more game before their 2019 campaign comes to an end.
    This coming Saturday, they host the Montreal Blitz at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field in an exhibition contest. The Blitz play out of a women’s league in the United States.
    When that contest concludes, the question posed to Herner was would she return to the Valkyries in 2020 for a sophomore season?
    She is teaching at Bedford Road Collegiate as well as continuing to coach hockey and softball.
    Herner is an assistant coach for Saskatchewan’s under-16 female team provincial hockey team, and she is taking on an assistant coach role with the Stars.
    With all that going on, Herner expects she will return to the Valkyries next season.
Kori Herner (#27) enjoys a fun moment with the Valkyries DBs.
    “I am pretty busy with playing ball and coaching hockey,” said Herner. “I want to come back.
“I will make time.”

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Saturday, 29 June 2019

“This game was 100 per cent for him” - Valkyries win WWCFL title in memory of late coach Filteau

Ron Filteau holds the WWCFL title trophy for the Valkyries team picture.
    REGINA, Sask. - It was far from an ordinary Western Women’s Canadian Football League championship for the Saskatoon Valkyries.
    On Saturday, the Valkyries downed the host Regina Riot 25-3 to capture their first league title since 2016 and sixth WWCFL championship since the team first hit the field in 2011. 
    The Riot entered Saturday’s game looking for their third straight league championship having won the WWCFL title in 2017 and 2018.
    The Valkyries were playing to honour the memory of their late defensive position coach Justin Filteau, who died in a plane crash on June 1. After learning about Filteau’s passing, the Valkyries dedicated their 2019 season to their late coach.
Sam Matheson (#22) jets off on a 16-yard touchdown run.
    Following Saturday’s win over the Riot, the Valkyries brought Filteau’s father, Ron, on to the field to share in the celebrations. The team had a big group hug with Ron, and he took part in a team picture with the squad.
    “This feels unreal, especially with everything that has happened this year, the adversity our team has experienced and overcome on this field,” said sixth-year defensive back Ehjae Chan. “It means so much like more than words can even express.
    “For us to be here to have played in this game and pulled through, we really felt coach (Justin) Filteau here today. This game was 100 per cent for him. I think for us it just felt fitting.”
    The Valkyries improved to 8-0 overall with the win.
Haley Girolami makes a tough sidelines catch.
    They still have one more exhibition game this coming Saturday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field against the Montreal Blitz, who play out of a women’s league in the United States.
    The Riot, who won two straight road playoff games to make the WWCFL final, finished off with a 3-4 overall mark.
    Valkyries quarterback Alex Eyolfson, who was named her team’s MVP for the title game, said she couldn’t find the words to adequately say how she felt regarding all that her squad had to persevere through.
    “It is just amazing,” said Eyolfson. “It is a great feeling.
    “Everyone just has so much heart on this team. It just showed today at the end. We just pushed through and got it for Filteau.”
    The Valkyries actually closed their WWCFL regular season schedule one day after Filteau’s sudden passing on June 2 at Mosaic Stadium against the Riot. Saskatoon prevailed in that contest 22-7.
    “When we found out about Justin’s passing, we were playing our last regular season game here on June second, and it was a challenge,” said Valkyries head coach Pat Barry. “I had never been involved in anything like that.
Ehjae Chan (#24) celebrates a fourth quarter interception.
    “The resiliency of our athletes is incredible. I am so proud of them. Their mental toughness is something I will never forget.
    “I will remember it all of my days.”
    Saturday’s clash was a typical physical affair that traditionally occurs between the Valkyries and Riot. The defences on both sides force their share of turnovers.
    The Valkyries ultimately made their takeaways count scoring 24 points off turnovers.
Saskatoon went ahead 1-0 early in the first quarter on a 40-yard punt single from Rienna Rueve.
    In the second quarter, Valkyries rookie defensive back Kori Herner intercepted Riot star quarterback Aimee Kowalski.
    The Valkyries turned that turnover into a short scoring drive that was capped by a four-yard touchdown run by star running back Sam Matheson to give the visitors an 8-0 edge.
    Near the end of the second quarter, Chan intercepted Kowalski and made a long run back into Regina’s end of the field.
Valkyries LB Beth Lalonde sacks Riot QB Aimee Kowalski.
    A short drive resulting from that turnover ended with Rueve hitting a 15-yard field goal to give the Valkyries an 11-0 lead with 14 seconds remaining before halftime.
    “As a DB, anytime you get to have an interception it’s really meaningful, especially when it kind of changes the tide of the game,” said Chan. “Our whole team has been playing unreal.
    “Our defence, we were working together, so I feel like that was just a reflection of how well our defence was playing as a unit. I just happened to get to take the glory for that moment, but it was really the whole team working together to make that happen.”
    Early in the third quarter, the Riot appeared to seize the momentum, when defensive end Jessie Noname blocked a punt and recovered the ball at Saskatoon’s 34 yard line.
QB Alex Eyolfson (#15) threw for 200 yards for the Valkyries.
    On the ensuing Regina offensive series, Kowalski appeared to hit receiver Kyla Krenbrink for a nine-yard touchdown pass, but the score was called back due to an off-side penalty against the Riot.
    That series ended with Krenbrink hitting a field goal from 20 yards out to cut the Valkyries lead to 11-3.
    In the fourth quarter, the Valkyries got the ball on their own 45 yard line after stopping the Riot on a third down gamble.
    Saskatoon proceeded to drive the ball downfield for a scoring march that was capped by a one-yard sneak by short-yardage quarterback Reed Thorstad. Thorstad’s score gave the visitors an 18-3 lead with 6:47 remaining on the clock.
The Valkyries held Reed Thorstad (#12) up after she scores a touchdown.
    After stopping the Riot on another third down gamble, the Valkyries mounted another scoring march that was capped by a 16-yard touchdown run by Matheson to put Saskatoon up 25-3 with 2:35 to play.
    Chan made her second interception of the contest on the ensuring Riot offensive series to cap the Valkyries victory.
    “It is always nice to come and battle,” said Chan, who had three tackles to go with her two interceptions. “We always have great games when we play the Riot.
    “We appreciate that, because football is more fun when it is a challenge and you aren’t sure what is going to happen. Obviously, it is great. We’re so proud of the football community in Saskatchewan.
Valkyries head coach Pat Barry gets the ice bucket shower.
    “Obviously, we love keeping it (the WWCFL championship) in the province and battling it out.”
    Matheson had a monster game for the Valkyries running the ball 21 times for 176 yards to go with her two scores.
    Eyolfson, who was named her team’s MVP for the game, completed 13-of-27 passes for 200 yards with one interception. Valkyries rookie receiver Haley Girolami led all pass catchers with six catches for 65 yards, which included a key 24-yard sideline catch in the fourth quarter.
    “We had a great group of receivers this year,” said Eyolfson. “I think it was probably like one of the strongest years we’ve had as an offence for sure.
    “We’ve played flag before, so it is good. I can connect with them. I know how they run.”
    The Riot were limited to 199 yards of total offence as a team. Kowalski completed 14-of-37 passes with four interceptions.
Ron Filteau, centre, gets emotional from a warm greeting by the Valkyries.
    Linebacker Emmarae Dale and defensive end Danaye Holynski each had 10.5 tackles for the Valkyries.
    Defensive tackle Brittany Boschman was named the game MVP for the Riot making 3.5 tackles and recovering one fumble.
    Barry spoke to Justin Filteau’s mom, Nancy, before the contest and she said to tell the players to have fun. The side boss reminded his players of that bit of advice at halftime, and he thought they were more upbeat with how they played in the second half.
    With all the Valkyries had to go though, Barry was overjoyed to see his team win the WWCFL title.
The Valkyries raise the WWCFL championship trophy.
    “I’m a little speechless right now,” said Barry. “I am so proud of these players.
    “I am so proud of these athletes. I am really excited for them. They had a great day.”

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Friday, 28 June 2019

Blades handled Malysjev departure well - D-man has to do what is best for him

Emil Malysjev elected to leave the Blades to play closer to home.
    In his one season with the Saskatoon Blades, Emil Malysjev left you wanting to see more.
    That makes his departure from the team tough to see. After going unselected in the NHL Entry Draft that was held June 21 and 22 in Vancouver, B.C., Malysjev informed the Blades he was staying in his home country of Sweden to pursue career opportunities in the game there.
    As a result, he wouldn’t be returning for an 18-year-old sophomore campaign in the WHL.
    Malysjev had informed the Blades brass for a lengthy stretch after the team’s playoff run came to an end what his thought process was. The club started preparing for the fact the Malysjev wouldn’t be back.
    That included selecting two defencemen from the Czech Republic in the CHL Import Draft held via conference call on Thursday in 19-year-old Libor Zabransky and Radek Kucerik, who will turn 18-years-old in December.
Emil Malysjev was solid in his own zone.
    Zabransky has played in the WHL for the Kelowna Rockets, but after the Rockets released him on Jan. 12, he became available again for the Import Draft.
    In Malysjev’s case, the Blades did what was best for the player. He felt more comfortable staying home, and the team showed understanding and let him do what he thought was best for him.
    The majority of the players in the WHL are teenagers, and when all is said and done, about 90 per cent of them won’t skate in an NHL regular season game as a player.
    All players coming into the WHL will wrestle with the fact that one day they will no longer be active players in the game at a competitive level including the ones that go on to have NHL careers.
Emil Malysjev improved steadily throughout the 2018-19 season.
    You have to weigh if the experience you gain being away from home playing in the WHL is worth it. For every player, that evaluation will be different.
    For imports like Malysjev, you have to add in the fact he left his home country and family and friends behind to cross an ocean to play hockey in a new country and a new city. Import players have to work through learning and adjusting to a new culture and often a new language on top of figuring out what their new team expects from them.
    Malysjev was taking on all of that as a 17-year-old, but he did have an advantage in the fact he could speak English fluently.
    The blue-liner, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 190 pounds, was succeeding on all fronts.
Emil Malysjev could potentially make noise on the international stage.
    He improved greatly as the season progressed. Paired with overager Dawson Davidson, Malysjev appeared in 63 regular season games with the Blades posting three goals, 14 assists and a plus-13 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Malysjev skated in all 10 of the Blades post-season games scoring a goal and posting an even-rating.
    He was rated 192nd among North American skaters in the final NHL Central Scouting rankings.
    With Davidson and fellow overage defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus exhausting their major junior eligibility at the conclusion of the Blades run in the WHL playoffs, Malysjev was initially pegged at being a key returnee for the team.
Emil Malysjev was solid in his one full season with the Blades.
    However, that won’t be the case.
    With the improvement Malysjev showed last season, one had to wonder how much he would have improved had played with the Blades as an 18-year-old or even as a 19-year-old.
    Still, Malysjev might still find his way to the NHL or even a lengthy professional career playing in Sweden or somewhere in Europe. Some of the Blades might cross paths with Malysjev on the international stage.
    It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him possibly skating with Sweden’s world junior team some day.
    Malysjev is doing what his best for him. As a teenager, he is still growing on many levels, and now he will continue that growth near the support system of his family and friends.
    The Blades helped him take a big leap forward in the game during his season in Saskatoon. Now, they are helping him by letting him go home, which is what he had his heart set on doing.

Raiders’ Kelly receives sweet Senators award again

Parker Kelly was a repeat award winner at Senators development camp.
    Parker Kelly was rewarded for the second straight year for a strong showing at the development camp of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.
    On Friday, the Prince Albert Raiders power forward was presented the Jonathan Pitre Memorial Trophy as the hardest working player at the Senators development camp for a second straight year.
    The Camrose, Alta., product was a co-winner of the inaugural edition of the award last year with Brady Tkachuk.
    The award is named after Jonathan Pitre, who was also known as the “Butterfly Boy.” Pitre passed away in April of 2018 from recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, which is a rare genetic mutation that causes the skin to blister and fall off at the slightest touch.
Parker Kelly (#27) played a key part helping the Raiders win the WHL title.
    He bonded with many of the Senators players and was named an honourary scout for the team in 2014. Pitre raised more than $200,000 for research of the disease.
    Last season, Kelly had a big campaign for the Raiders setting career highs in goals (35), assists (32) and points (67) in 64 regular season games. He posted a plus-42 rating in the plus-minus department, which was also a career high.
    Kelly helped the Raiders win the WHL championship posting eight goals, nine assists and a plus-19 rating appearing in all of the team’s 23 games in the WHL playoffs.
Parker Kelly lifts the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    He is eligible to return to the Raiders as an overage player next season. Kelly signed an entry-level contract with the Senators in September of 2017 after a strong showing at their training camp that year, and it is highly likely he will play next season somewhere in the Senators system.

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Thursday, 27 June 2019

Valkyries expect tough battle with Riot in WWCFL final

The Valkyries and Riot will tangle for the WWCFL title.
    Beth Lalonde might know better than anyone that past results can be thrown out the window, when her Saskatoon Valkyries face their archrivals the Regina Riot in the post-season.
    For the second straight year, the two squads will square off in the championship game of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League. This year’s contest is slated for Saturday at 4 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
    Lalonde is a veteran linebacker who has been a career member of the Valkyries since the club first hit the field in 2011. She expects Saturday’s game to be another battle.
    “Last year, we were the underdogs and fighting for the win,” said Lalonde. “It was a really good championship game.
    “Now, it has kind of switched. We have the two (head-to-head) wins under our belt, and we just want to get that last one just to show them that we were the dominant team this year. We want to go out with the win.”
Mallory Starkey (#7) is a key veteran for the Riot.
    Last year, the Riot downed the Valkyries 14-10 in the WWCFL final in that same venue. It marked the second straight year Regina claimed the WWCFL title.
    The Valkyries last captured the league crown in 2016.
    Last season, the Riot entered the championship game as the favourites and completed the 2018 campaign with a 7-0 overall record with the victory in the league final.
    The Valkyries finished with a 4-3 overall mark, and all three of those losses came to the Riot.
    This season, the Valkyries are pegged as favourites posting a 7-0 overall record heading into the title game. The Riot are 3-3 overall and won two straight playoff games on the road to get to the final.
Saskatoon claimed both head-to-head meeting posting a 38-13 victory at Saskatoon Minor Football Field on May 11 and a 22-7 triumph on June 2 in Regina.
Sam Matheson (#22) is back in top gear for the Valkyries.
    Lalonde expects the Riot will enter Saturday’s clash with a huge boost in confidence.
    “Playing Regina is always a tough game,” said Lalonde. “We know they are a tough team.
    “They are hungry for this win. They have those two wins under their belt. They are going hard, and they are at home.
    “They are going to have new plays in. They are going to have defensive strategies that we haven’t seen yet. We just have to react and play and listen to our coaches.”
    Valkyries head coach Pat Barry said Riot like his squad have a shuffled deck with rookies mixed in with established veterans.
    The sideline boss noted the Riot still have veteran star quarterback Aimee Kowalski, who is a career member of the Regina club since it was formed in 2011. Barry said Kowalski is finding her groove with her new teammates.
Aimee Kowalski continues to lead the Riot at quarterback.
    “I’ve watched their last couple of games,” said Barry. “They are doing a lot of things well.
    “It looks like their quarterback, who is an excellent quarterback in Aimee (Kowalski), is starting to throw on time. She is starting to trust her receivers. She is an excellent quarterback.
    “That is something that is a concern for us. Defensively, they have a lot of real experienced people who have won a lot. We have to be aware of that.”
    Both teams have their slate of star players who have been to this point many times before. For the Riot, that list includes Kowalski, her younger sister and receiver Alex Kowalski, running back Mallory Starkey, Taline Blakley on the offensive line, linebacker Adrienne Zuck and Katie Hungle on the defensive line.
    The Valkyries counter with quarterback duo of Alex Eyolfson and Reed Thorstad, running back Samantha Matheson, left tackle Alyssa Funk, Lalonde, linebacker Emmarae Dale and Jaime Lammerding on the defensive line.
Alex Eyolfson (#15) will aim to fire lazers downfield for the Valkyries.
    Receiver Kelsey Murphy, who is in her sixth season with the Valkyries, said there is lots of familiarity on both sides due to the head-to-head clashes and from the fact players on both sides have been teammates on the Saskatchewan provincial team and Canada’s national team program.
    “It is terrible to go up against them in the game, but it is actually really nice to see them,” said Murphy. “Some people will even help you up, when you are down like after they push you over.
    “Once the whistle blows, you are friends again. With some of them, you just don’t have that yet. They are just enemies all the time.”
Valkyries LB Beth Lalonde (#2) meets Riot R Alex Kowalski.
    While there are a plenty of veterans on the Riot side that Murphy knows, she said the Regina club is gaining more and more newcomers she doesn’t know.
    Still, Murphy expects Saturday’s came to be the most intense encounter of the season between the two sides.
    “I think it will be a lot tougher,” said Murphy. “It is the championship game.
    “They’ve had two wins. We’ve beaten them twice, so that is definitely going to like fuel them. It will be tougher, but we’re working harder too.”
    The Valkyries have their share of emotional motivation heading into the WWCFL title game. The most obvious is playing for their late defensive position coach Justin Filteau, who passed away in a plane crash on June 1.
Sarah Wright wants to experience her first WWCFL title win.
    Filteau joined the Valkyries coaching staff in 2017.
    Saskatoon wants to reclaim the WWCFL title for the first time since 2016, and a large number of players on the Valkyries have never experienced a league title win.
    One of those players is third-year running back Sarah Wright, who joined the team in 2017 and vaulted to standout status.
    “I really want a ring,” said Wright. “All the girls are super excited to help some of the rookies as well and the people that haven’t been on a winning team before.
    “They are all willing to help us out. I think we are going to go for it pretty hard.”
    Murphy would love to see the Valkyries players that have never experienced a WWCFL title win gain that feeling on Saturday.
    “We want to get it for them, and we want to get it for (Justin) Filteau,” said Murphy. “For those two reasons, we are just going to work even harder.
    “There are so many people on this team now who haven’t gotten a ring. We want to bring that home for them.”

Blades pick two defencemen in CHL Import Draft

    The Saskatoon Blades used the CHL Import Draft to solidify their back end.
    On Thursday, the Blades selected two blue-liners from the Czech Republic in the Import Draft. In the first round and 55th overall, the Blades picked 19-year-old Libor Zabransky.
    In the second round and 115th overall, the Blades selected Radek Kucerik, who will turn 18-years-old in December.
    Zabransky, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 190 pounds, started last season with the Kelowna Rockets appearing in 35 regular season games posting two goals, seven assists and a plus-three rating in the plus-minus department.
    Due to have a surplus of defencemen, the Rockets released Zabransky on Jan. 12 just a couple of days after the WHL’s trade deadline. Zabransky joined the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League posting four goals, 12 assists and a minus-eight rating in 30 regular season games.
    The Blades were able to draft Zabransky due to the fact he was released by the Rockets.
    In 2017-18, Zabransky played his first season season in the WHL for the Rockets appear in all of the team’s 72 regular season games posting two goals, 17 assists and a plus-seven rating.
    Kucerik, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 209 pounds, was captain of the HC Kometa Brno under-19 team last season. With that squad, Kucerik appeared in 43 regular season games posting six goals, 17 assists and a plus-nine rating.
    The Blades confirmed that their two imports from last season in Norwegian left-winger Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen and Swedish defenceman Emil Malysjev won’t be back with the team this year.
    Last season, Roykas-Marthinsen appeared in 62 regular season games with the Blades posting 13 goals, 16 assists and a plus-12 rating. He was selected in the seventh round and 213th overall by the Washington Capitals in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and went unsigned by the team.
    Roykas-Marthinsen, who is entering his overage season, is looking to play somewhere in the professional ranks this coming season.
    As a 17-year-old rookie last season, Malysjev, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 187 pounds, turned heads appearing in 63 regular season games recording three goals, 14 assists and a plus-13 rating.
    After going unselected in the NHL Entry Draft, Malysjev informed the Blades he won’t be returning for his 18-year-old season, and he is electing to play in Sweden.

Raiders take Russian forward in CHL Import Draft

    The Prince Albert Raiders added some speed and skill making one selection in the CHL Import Draft.
    In the first round with the 60th overall pick, the Raiders selected 17-year-old Russian forward Ivan Kechkin. Kechkin, who stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 143 pounds, played for the Rus Moskva under-17 and under-18 teams last season.
    With the under-17 team, Kechkin appeared in 23 regular season games collecting six goals and nine assists. With the under-18 team, he skated in 15 regular season games posting six goals and 12 assists.
    “Ivan (Kechkin) has good vision, a high skill level and skates well,” said Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt in a release. “His coach is the father of Denis Tolpeko, who played for me in Regina.”
    With the addition of Kechkin, the Raiders have three import players on their roster.
    Belarusian left-winger Aliaksei Protas posted 11 goals, 29 assists and a plus-24 rating in 61 regular season games last season. The 18-year-old had a head turning WHL playoffs posting 12 goals, 10 assists and a plus-12 rating in 23 games helping the Raiders win the WHL championship.
    Protas was selected in the NHL Entry Draft that recently wrapped up in Vancouver, B.C., in the second round and 91st overall by the Washington Capitals.
    Belarusian defenceman Sergei Sapego posted 10 goals, 33 assists and a plus-42 rating last season for the Raiders. Sapego, who will enter his overage season, is currently attending the NHL development camp of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Wednesday, 26 June 2019

King to add Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame to accolades

Dave King is a coaching legend in hockey.
    He is already a member of the Order of Canada and the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame, so it would stand to reason Dave King would one day become a member of the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame.
    On Wednesday at a media conference at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, King was announced as a member of the 2019 class that will head to the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame as a builder. The 34th annual induction ceremonies will be held Nov. 2 at TCU Place.
    King heads a class that includes five builders, four athletes and two teams, while the 1989 Jeux Canada Games Foundation is honoured as the Sports Organization of the Year.
    King has built a legendary career as a hockey head coach that has spanned decades. He has already been inducted to a number of sports hall of fames.
    Still, King always get humbled by these types of accolades, and it was special to learn he would be going into the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame.
    “I’ve been a citizen of Saskatoon for a long time, although I haven’t lived here for a long time,” said King. “It is a real honour.
    “When I was given the word that this was going to happen, my first thoughts were for all the minor coaches when I was playing minor football and hockey and basketball and baseball, all those guys that created that interest in sport. I’m a pretty lucky guy.”
    The 71-year-old got his start in coaching way back in the 1960s, when he helped his father, Robert, coach the Greystone Heights community hockey team.
Dana Kidd, left, shakes hands with Dave King.
    From that start, Kings coaching career has taken him through the Saskatoon Minor Hockey ranks, the WHL, U Sports, the Canadian national team system, the NHL, the Olympics, Japan, Germany, Sweden and the Russian Super League.
    Most recently, he was one of the co-chairs of the Home Ice Campaign that raised funds to get the new Merlis Belsher Place twin pad hockey rink built on the U of Saskatchewan campus. The 2018-19 hockey campaign marked the first season Merlis Belsher Place was in operation.
    Overall in Saskatoon, King is best remembered for his work from two specific seasons. The first was the 1981-82 campaign, when he took on the role of head coach of Canada’s national junior team along with his duties as head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team.
    That season marked the first campaign of Hockey Canada’s program of excellence, where the national junior team would be made up a junior aged all-star players from across the country.
    Before that, the defending Memorial Cup championship team represented Canada at world juniors.
Guiding a team that included a star centre from the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades named Marc Habscheid, King oversaw Canada’s first gold medal victory at the tournament.
The Huskies 1982-83 national championship team picture.
    In the 1982-83 campaign, King guided the Huskies to a first place finish in the Canada West Conference with a 16-8 record and a third straight Canada West title. At the University Cup national championship tournament in Moncton, N.B., the Huskies won the U Sports national title with a 6-2 victory in the event’s title game over the Concordia University Stingers.
    At that time, U Sports was known as the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union.
    Before winning the national title in 1983, the Huskies fell in the University Cup title game in 1981 and 1982.
    During King’s time as Huskies head coach from 1979 to 1983, the terms “Hustlin’ Huskie” and “no one outworks the Dogs” became synonymous with the program.
    “That team, the majority of those guys I would say over 90 per cent of those guys played together for three years or four years, and we got to the national finals three times in a row,” said King. “Finally, the third time we won it.
A Dave King picture on display at Merlis Belsher Place.
    “We were a close group. We’ve all stuck together. We started alumni association with the University of Saskatchewan Hockey program, and all of us have stayed really in touch with it.”
    King said the bonds have never faded that everyone has from those Huskies years. When the 1982-83 national championship team had a reunion in the mid to late 2000s, almost everyone made it back.
    “When we had our reunion, we all showed up all but a couple of guys,” said King. “It was wonderful.
    “That team won, and when I look at the team picture, they won because they were a group of high achieves. What those guys have done with their careers since that time has been amazing.”
    A number of Kings former players from his time with the Huskies have gone on to successful coaching careers.
Dave King has a few pictures displayed at Merlis Belsher Place.
    The list includes Mike Babcock, who is the head coach of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, Willie Desjardins, who is the head coach and general manager of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, Peter Anholt, who is the general manager of the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, Marc Chartier, who is the head coach of the midget AAA Saskatoon Contacts and current Huskies men’s hockey team head coach Dave Adolph.
    Desjardins was the captain of the 1982-83 championship team.
    On the international level, King guided Canada’s senior national team for a number of years, and Habscheid played for him on a number of those teams. Habscheid went on to an extremely successful coaching career, and he guided the Prince Albert Raiders to their second WHL championship this past season.
    “When you coach guys that go on to coach, that is the biggest compliment you will get out of coaching,” said King. “You might win a championship and you might not.
    “When the guys you coach, your athletes go back in and coach themselves, that is a terrific thing, and they are all such great coaches. I’ve been lucky Mike Babcock and Willie Desjardins, guys like that who played for us at the university, they’ve all gone into coaching and been very successful.”
Dave King, right, meets an Optimist Twirling Connection member.
    Also going into the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame in the builders category is Gordie Howe Sports Complex operations manager Johnny Marciniuk.
    Marciniuk has been a consultant and co-ordinator with elementary and high school sports for more than 30 years, and he has had a hand in many sport endeavors.
    In recent years, he is best known for being one of the founding members of the Friends of the Bowl Foundation, which formed with the goal to raise funds to refurbish what is now known as Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    Once that football stadium was refurbished, that initial project expanded to refurbishing on the sports facilities in what was formerly known as the Holiday Park sports park to become what is now known as the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
    Being inducted to the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame didn’t cross Marciniuk’s mind as he has overseen the ongoing construction at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
Dana Kidd, left, shakes Johnny Marciniuk’s hand.
    “It is an incredible honour for me,” said Marciniuk. “There are between two to three thousand members when you look at the individual members and the teams and the members of those teams.
    “To be a part of that is breathtaking for me. I always say that I am a grunt, and I like to make things happen behind the scenes and those type of things. To be even considered with that group is an honour for me.”
    While construction is still ongoing, Marciniuk marvels at what has already been completed.
    “It has been a labour of love here for us and whole Friends of the Bowl committee,” said Marciniuk. “We’re a little over halfway there, and there is lots more to come.
    “I am very proud of what the community has provided here for us. All the people of the community own this facility, so we’re very proud to be a part of it.”
    Also entering the hall in the builders category are Lawrence Beatty in softball, Dale Clancy in wrestling and Al Mitchell in football.
Johnny Marciniuk, left, and Al Mitchell left marks as sports builders.
    The athletes being inducted in the Fiona Cribb in triathlon, Terry Lehne in football, Donna Saworski in fencing and Jake Wetzel in rowing.
    The teams heading to the hall include the 2012 and 2014 Merle Kopach masters women’s curling teams and the 2005 Optimist Twirling Connection baton twirling team.

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Monday, 24 June 2019

Big game spotlight brings out best in Valkyries’ Girolami

Haley Girolami had three catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns for the Valkyries on Sunday.
    Haley Girolami is still oblivious to statistical milestones in football.
    The rookie receiver was unaware how big her performance was in the Saskatoon Valkyries 53-0 romp over the visiting Lethbridge Steel in a Western Women’s Canadian Football League semifinal match on Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    In that contest, Girolami hauled in three passes for 100 yards and scored three touchdowns. The 23-year-old scored the Valkyries first touchdown on a 28-yard catch with 5:52 expired in the first quarter to give Saskatoon a 7-0 lead.
    During the second quarter, Girolami caught a long pass and on the way to a 66-yard catch and run touchdown to account for her second major.
Haley Girolami reacts to making a six-yard TD catch.
    She hauled in a six-yard reception for her third score of the game before the second quarter expired.
    Girolami didn’t know a 100-yard receiving game is a big statistical moment for a pass catcher. She wasn’t even keeping track of the fact she reached the end zone three times.
    “I wasn’t thinking about it,” said Girolami. “I just knew I had to do my job.
    “If the ball was coming to me, I had to catch it. I did, and I was thankful for that.”
    Before joining the Valkyries this season, Girolami had been out of competitive sports for a lengthy stretch. For three seasons from 2010 to 2013, she was a defender for the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA hockey team.
    After exhausting her midget AAA eligibility, Girolami continued to play sports at the recreational level. She is pursuing studies in nursing at the University of Saskatchewan.
    A year ago, Girolami watched her younger sister, Danielle, play through her rookie season as a receiver for the Valkyries. Haley decided to join her 20-year-old sibling this season.
    “Danielle played last year, and I guess I kind of saw her having fun,” said Haley, who stands 5-foot-9. “I figured I can’t let her have all the fun, so I thought I would join.”
Haley Girolami races downfield after making a catch.
    While Haley followed in Danielle’s footsteps in football, Danielle followed in Haley’s footsteps in hockey. After Haley graduated from the midget AAA ranks, Danielle joined the Stars playing defence for the team from 2013 to 2016. She helped the Stars win Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League titles in 2015 and 2016.
    Growing up playing hockey, the two never got to play a full season together on one team. They would cross paths from time to time with the Saskatchewan provincial hockey team program.
    Football has provided the two sisters the chance to play on a competitive sports team together for a full season.
    “It is great,” said Haley. “I love having my sister there on the other side of me.
    “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
    Valkyries head coach Pat Barry was happy to see Haley Girolami have a big game against the Steel. The sideline boss has been impressed with how well Girolami has balanced playing for the Valkyries along with her commitment to the U of S nursing program.
    “She is an exceptional athlete,” said Barry. “I know she is in nursing, which is a very challenging program.
    “Sometimes, we haven’t had her at all the football games. We’re very pleased to have her, and we have to get the ball to her as much as we can.”
Haley Girolami scores a TD on a 28-yard reception.
    On Saturday, the Valkyries travel to Regina to play in the WWCFL Championship game against the host and two-time defending champion Riot at 4 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium. Barry believes Girolami could have a huge impact on the final outcome of that contest.
    “She could be a big factor,” said Barry. “Again, it is a team game, and we have to have 12 people on the field all pulling together.
    “If that happens, hopefully we will be successful.”
    Girolami has enjoyed the atmosphere of being on a competitive team again with the Valkyries. She missed the comradery that comes with the bus trips and the hotel stays with the team, which doesn’t happen often at the recreational level.
    On top of all of that, Girolami is thankful the Valkyries have been really welcoming.
    “It has been lots of fun,” said Girolami. “I missed competitive team sports, so it was really nice being back with everybody as a team.
Haley Girolami (#17) celebrates a touchdown with her teammates.
    “The girls are really encouraging. It is lots of fun being out there as a team together and you work well.”
    Now, Girolami will try and help the Valkyries win their first WWCFL title since 2016. They fell 14-10 in last year’s league title game to the Riot.
    She believes she will have some nerves going into that game, but expects her teammates will help her out.
    “The atmosphere is going to be a lot different,” said Girolami. “With all the team there, it is going to be pretty exciting I think.”

CFL and CFLPA looks bad on Lawrence suspension

QB Zach Collaros (#17) is out due to a Simoni Lawrence hit.
    The CFL and CFL Players’ Association are getting rightly roasted by pundits over the fallout of the Simoni Lawrence suspension.
    The CFL handed down a two-game suspension to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker for when he dove and drove his left shoulder into the head of Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros. The play occurred in the Tigers-Cats 23-17 victory over the Roughriders in Hamilton on June 13 in the regular season opening game for the entire league.
    Collaros, who has a history of concussion injuries, was placed on the six-game injured list and hasn’t played since the hit.
    Lawrence received a Grade 2 roughing the passer penalty resulting in a 25-yard gain for Saskatchewan.
    The CFL handed down its suspension to Lawrence on June 17. Last Wednesday, the CFLPA informed the CFL it was grieving the two-game suspension to Lawrence.
    The appealing hearing is set for July 9. Lawrence is eligible to play for the Tiger-Cats until the appeal hearing is held.
    This sort of situation has happened in the CFL before, and it will likely happen again in the future.
    If Lawrence agreed to sit out his two-game suspension, there would have been a lot of people that said justice was served. With that said, there would have been others that said the suspension wasn’t stiff enough, but their voices likely would have faded had there not been an appeal.
    Still, the Lawrence situation would have come to a conclusion instead of being dragged out like it is, if he served the CFL imposed suspension.
    There was a feeling before the season started that player safety would be more important to all parties involved. With how Lawrence’s situation has played out, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
    The CFL looks toothless, because it appears unable to enforce the suspensions it hands out. The CFLPA looks awkward trying to defend a player that has committed an obvious foul, while appearing to overlook an injury to one of its other union members.
    It seems like ensuring Lawrence doesn’t miss getting a game paycheque trumps player safety.
    This is one of those situations where all parties are in the wrong outside of Collaros himself.
    All the criticism that has come and likely is still to come is warranted.

NHL Entry Draft not be all in making league

A David Schlemko hockey card and puck set.
    If you get passed over in the NHL Entry Draft, it doesn’t all hope of having an NHL player career is gone.
    This year’s NHL Draft was held last Friday and Saturday in Vancouver, B.C., and in the immediate aftermath, a lot of draft eligible players are left to deal with the disappointment of going unselected.
    One of my favourite success stories was never selected in the NHL Entry Draft.
    In his final major junior campaign in 2006-07, David Schlemko piled up eight goals, 50 assists and a plus-12 rating in the plus-minus department skating in 64 regular season games with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
    Cementing a solid reputation as an offensive defenceman during what was his 19-year-old season in the WHL, Schlemko helped the Tigers win the WHL title and earn a berth in the Memorial Cup tournament championship game.
    The Tigers fell in that year’s Memorial Cup title game 3-1 to the host Vancouver Giants.
Schlemko, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 191 pounds, was never selected in the NHL Entry Draft, but in July of 2007, he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
    He made his NHL debut during his second year in the professional ranks in 2008-09 with the Coyotes and ultimately played three games that season.
    Over 12 seasons as a professional, Schlemko has played 415 career NHL regular season games collecting 18 goals and 76 assists with the Coyotes, Dallas Stars, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens.
    The now 32-year-old’s NHL rights are held by the Philadelphia Flyers. While there is no certainty that he will play with the Flyers next season, his NHL career has to be deemed an unequivocal success.
    If you are signed by an NHL club as an undrafted free agent, most pundits view those types of players as a long shot to make it into the league.
    The fact Schlemko has played over 400 games in the league over 12 professional campaigns blows that notion away.
    He is a smart player who knows when to make the simple plays and went to take a calculated chance on the ice. Schlemko has always been a good teammate, and all those factors have allowed to play in the NHL for as long as he has.
    He showed it is possible for someone to make it to the NHL and play in the league over a long period of time even if they go undrafted.

Being first overall pick doesn’t guarantee anything

    Do you remember who was the first overall selection in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft that saw the Vancouver Canucks select twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin?
    Believe it or not, the first overall selection wasn’t one of the Sedin twins. The Canucks took Daniel second overall and Henrik third overall.
    With the first overall selection, the Atlanta Thrashers picked centre Patrik Stefan from the Czech Republic.
    Who is Patrik Stefan you ask?
    He is best remembered for a regularly shown blooper, when he was a member of the Dallas Stars. On Jan. 4, 2007, the Stars were in Edmonton leading the host Oilers 5-4 in the dying seconds of the third period.
    Stefan had a breakaway towards an empty Edmonton net. He attempted a casual backhand shot that missed the goal, and he also tripped and fell to the ice.
    After falling to the ice, Stefan proceeded to clear the puck to an Oilers player. The Oilers came back up the ice and scored the equalizer that forced a 5-5 tie. Dallas proceeded to win the game 6-5 after a tiebreaking shootout.
    Stefan, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 210 pounds, is remembered more for that gaff than being selected first overall in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.
    The 2006-07 campaign turned out to be Stefan’s final season in the NHL, and he retired in October of 2007.
    He appeared in 455 career regular season games playing for both the Thrashers and the Stars posting 64 goals and 124 assists.
    Most hockey players would do something extreme to have an NHL playing career like that.
    When you are the first overall selection of an NHL Entry Draft, those numbers make you a draft bust. While that might be cruel, that is the way it is.
    There is a notion that all first overall selections in the NHL Entry Draft are can’t miss prospects for star status.
    Stefan’s career showed being the first overall selection definitely does not guarantee you will make the Hockey Hall of Fame one day.
    Instead, you can become a permanent feature on the blooper reel.

Raiders, Blades kick off regular season against each other

The Blades and Raiders are set to get it on to start the season.
    Now that the rivalry is back to a fever pitch, the Prince Albert Raiders and the Saskatoon Blades will kick off their respective WHL regular season schedules playing each other in a home-and-home series.
    The archrivals collided in the second round of the WHL playoffs last season, and the Raiders claimed the best-of-seven series 4-2. Prince Albert marched on to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup as league champions.
    The Raiders host the Blades on Friday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. One night later, the Blades host the Raiders at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    Both games should draw big crowds, and that is likely an understatement.
    This also marks the first time the Raiders and Blades have opened a WHL campaign playing each other in a home-and-home series since the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

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